On Romford Rd at 11.30pm a group of seven 30-somethings are singing Arabic lullabies into a sky blue pram that they are pushing towards the train station. One holds a toy horse on a stick like an umbrella; another drums on a djembe at the traffic lights. One of the women walks backwards ahead of the buggy, singing “Oh, Moon” and “Tack Tack Tack Hey Sulaiman’s Mum” to the little girl inside, who first stops crying and then sits up straight and starts bobbing her head from side to side to the rhythm of the song.
The baby girl is like a startled starling, her saucer eyes alighting on the passing cars, the people lying on cardboard boxes in the sad late night shopping centre, the jet spray whooshing the pavement clean behind the tube station bins. She had been fast asleep in a strange bed, chatter and laughter rising from below her open window, when without warning her dad had woken and dressed her, put her in her pram and pushed her out into the secret night world.
The 30-somethings are still singing at Oxford Circus at midnight, standing around the pram and clicking their fingers as if it is the middle of the morning at a nursery school. The girl stops crying again, but that doesn’t stop the other people on the platform from staring at them with thinly disguised disapproval. “Everyone thinks we’ve kidnapped her”, says the girl’s mum.
On the Victoria Line, the girl’s eyelids start to droop, but the songs and kisses keep coming. She will cave into tired screams before she makes it to her own bed, and her dad will have to carry her like a newborn from the bus-stop to their front door. But for now she lies perfectly still and perfectly quiet, her eyes flicking from her reflection in the dark train window to the beaming faces of these adults who love her, they too staving off their tiredness, at least for another hour.